Thoughts from the summit


This is a great time to explore what Change means. The nature of change itself is changing, from long-range consultancy programs that focus on business efficiency… to moments of change that are more agile, more democratic, better aligned to the needs of individuals inside and outside the building.

So the nature of change was the topic of our 3rd leadership summit, hosted at Wolff Olins this October.

We gathered a group of CEOs, marketing directors, and senior strategic leaders to discuss how the approach to making effective change is itself adapting to fit the diversity of a modern business world and society.

Here’s a short video about the day – and watch this space, there are plenty more opinions on Change to come.

How To Change from Wolff Olins on Vimeo.

To request an invitation to our Summit in NYC on November 5th, please email

Fighting talk


Our CEO, Ije Nwokorie, is part of the LinkedIn Influencers Program which provides original insights from top industry leaders. The piece that follows was originally published on LinkedIn. You can follow Ije and read his other Influencer posts here.

Issues of data and privacy are increasingly driving access, advocacy and advantage. Every one of our fundamental systems – of health, energy, food, education, even politics and personal rights – are being recoded by this new power. To put it mildly, we’re worried.

At a time when the world contemplates exciting new possibilities – of driverless cars, universal access to information, the eradication of malaria – we also find ourselves surrounded by ferocious battles pitting citizen against institution, governments against industry, makers against distributors, with Snowdens around every corner - in the press, in the boardroom and in government offices.

The battles run the risk of compromising the great opportunities of our times.

For us all to win, those of us who have a hand in helping organisations define what they are and what they do, must help brave leaders recast the posture from exploitation to collaboration.

This means that organisations shouldn’t obsess with extracting value from customers, but rather how to create that value with them.

They look to make things for people, not find people who want what they make.

They engage, really engage, with diverse coalitions of makers, disrupters, technologists, activists and people everywhere to get things done.

They operate on the side of the individual. To take advantage of the massive opportunities in the world today, we have to rethink the modern corporation and help it be on the right side - society’s side.

They need to be transparent about their attitude to our data and privacy. They must act as if every one of their actions is visible to every one of us.

The alternative – to maintain a battle-ready posture with society strikes me as not just social, but commercial suicide.

And nobody wants that, do they?


Creativity from conflict


This post relates to a series of free webinars on leadership from Kitchen - our school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world.

By Xander Hough, HR Manager at Wolff olins

At Wolff Olins we believe the creative process (done right) is pretty messy. You get stuck in, you generate ideas, you make, imagine, you prototype, discuss, you jot things down, respond, research, collaborate, think out-loud, scribble all over the place, sprint, edit, give it a go, refine and over time something beautiful emerges. That beautiful thing is change – for individuals and for organisations. Change is not only the product, but also the process.

Sounds so positive, doesn’t it?

Yet, much of the contemporary vocabulary around change is quite violent in tone too; Hack, Disrupt, Cut-through, Provoke. In fact, they sound pretty confrontational.

In some ways, these words align more closely with how people really feel about change. The product and the process gives rise to a lot of different emotions which are often quite negative. Change causes conflict. Now you might not label it as ‘conflict’ but you could probably spot disagreements, judgement, debate, ground-standing, soap-boxing, stone-walling and people ‘not seeing eye to eye’ a mile off when you bring people together to solve a problem.

It’s not really surprising this happens. After all, we all see the world (and the problem) in a different way. We have diverse experiences and values which influence our approach. We have our own fears and anxieties when we imagine a different future. The behaviours I’m talking about are all the symptoms of people being in conflict and within any environment or situation, they can quickly result in relationships breaking down and people disengaging. If people don’t come together and open up, you are not going to get messy which means you’re not going to be able to create. And that means you cannot change anything.

Luckily there is a single, simple behaviour which can turn this around.

Empathy is “the intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another”. I learnt about empathy when I trained as a workplace mediator, facilitating conversations between colleagues to improve working relationships. Mediators are clear that empathy is not sympathy. As a mediator it is important to build rapport with both parties by being empathetic, but you must also be impartial and non-judgemental.
When one person is empathetic to another in a conflict situation, they make the other person feel heard. They demonstrate that, while they may not agree, they ‘get it’ and they are listening. They also move from their own single position (because once conflict emerges we often focus on our own point of view and defending it) into exploring a second, alternative position – that of their ‘opponent’. And from that, you can move into a third space – a creative space. 

When you are able to simultaneously explore both your own point of view and an alternate one you are in the best possible place to explore common ground, shared values, symbiosis, possibilities, collaboration.  You are no longer limited by the constraints of your own experience and your own thinking. You become more open. Empathy does not require that you reach agreement or consensus and neither does the creative process. All of these things foster creativity and working together harmoniously even though you may not see the problem in the same way.

More importantly perhaps, through the practice of empathy you have created a deliberate shift in thinking. If that’s not change, I don’t know what is.

If you’re interested in hearing more about managing conflict, why not join me for my webinar on 20 October as part of Snacks from Kitchen at Wolff Olins? During this free 30 minute webinar I’ll be sharing tools to help you identify conflict situations and facilitate conversations to restore productive working relationships. I hope to see you there.

Five questions with Patty McCord

image Continuing a series of interviews with inspiring female leaders, Wolff Olins’ global COO, Sairah Ashman, interviews Patty McCord

Patty has spent her career setting people up for success in a variety of high-tech businesses.  She’s famous for her role as Chief Talent Officer at Netflix and is often cited as “the woman behind Netflix”.  She now advises young tech businesses, such as Warby Parker amongst many others, as they look to grow and scale.

What are the most significant shifts influencing your business?

Fundamentally, the world of work has changed because we’re so connected now. Business is less about command and control and more about enabling speed through collaboration. It’s not about adding another programme or layer, it’s about taking something away. The big shift is about taking a more holistic approach. Moving away from departmental silos, because collaboration and focus provide speed. This is what helps make start-ups successful. They concentrate on how to get things done in the simplest way, leveraging all the brainpower and skills they have. The biggest shift business needs to focus on in the future is collaboration.

What do you see as the key growth accelerators for you over the next 12 months?

I advise start-ups as they scale and the biggest accelerator for any business right now is creating the right customer experience. You can confidently assume that a large portion of your profile is being created by word of mouth, and more specifically by people using social media to comment on their experiences of you. Being able to track this data, respond and make your offer more relevant will be what drives growth.  At the end of the day it comes down to the product and the experience you provide.

What role do you see brand playing in achieving your goals?

It’s critical and great businesses make their culture their brand. Their people join in delivering the experience and you see a great connection between culture, experience and how they make money. Tom’s shoes is a great example. Brand also creates context and helps articulate your strategy i.e. what you’re not going to do. It frees you up to make the right decisions quickly. Businesses typically go through 3 key development stages. In the first stage, they work hard to establish viability. If they’re successful, they focus on scale and handling the complexity that brings.  Then they might look at going public and making the transition from private ownership. Brand plays a key role between those stages - communicating and connecting the transitions with your core purpose and what you stand for.

What or who inspired you in the early years?

I’ve learned a lot being surrounded by amazing inventors and innovators over the years. I’ve often just stopped and thought, ‘I’m in the room who can make these incredible things happen’. People who start with the experience and who think very logically as engineers. So you know that if they can’t make something work, then there’s a really good chance it’s just not going to work. There’s so much to be said for originality and creativity. Starting with the question ‘what would be the best experience?’ and ‘why not me?’.

What advice would you pass on to others just starting out?

Learn the business of business, no matter who you are or what role you have. Be curious, seek to understand how the machine works because the more you understand holistically what your endeavour is trying to accomplish then you can figure out your role in it, and you don’t have to wait to be told. That gives you power. Find your own power and align it to the good of the organisation. This is my algorithm: Success = is what you love to do, that you’re extraordinarily good at doing, something that the company needs someone to be great at?  The first thing you have to do is figure out what you love to do.  It’s a life-long journey. How you manage people’s careers is… you don’t! You manage their learning. If you can encourage people to work on incredible things with incredible people and build a track record of doing great stuff – then they’re golden.

Rewriting the rule book


By James Kape

Over the past month my friends Hamish and Jesse have been raising funds via Kickstarter to print a full-size re-issue of the 1967 loose-leaf Subway System Standards Manual designed by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda as a hardcover book. 

Now with $802,812 amount of funds raised and 6,536 books waiting to be printed, I caught up with them to hear about the project, their next steps and perhaps some of the juicy bits we’ve all been wondering!  But before I do so (and at the risk of repeating what most of you have probably already read here, here and here) here is quick summary. 

Back in 2012 they discovered a rare copy of the manual in the basement of the New York Pentagram office when looking for some tarp to protect the football table on their roof. Following this, they made a website which documented every page within the manual. But seeing it on screen didn’t do it justice so they embarked upon reprinting the manual in its entirety. 

Hey Guys, what a whirlwind! Have their been any bets around where the final fundraising figure would fall?


A lot of people think it will hit 800k, but my (second or third) goal was to hit 750k, which we did last week—I’ll take that any day.


Me too! I remember debating what the original goal should be, and we thought 100k (what we need for the minimum print run) was completely crazy. But to get over 6500 backers is way over what I would have bet.

So you must have been checking the Kickstarter every day? 


To be honest, it was so overwhelming in the beginning that it gave me anxiety to keep checking. My mother has been texting me with the milestones before I even get to see them, along with other friends and family members.


On launch day I was in a cab late for a meeting and I was trying to email the client but the Kickstarter app “new backer” notification was constantly popping up literally every couple of seconds. After that I had to turn it off…like Jesse it was making my feel a little ill!

When you discovered the manual you were working on a NYC wayfinding project. Did any of the rules which you found in the manual inspire your work on this project or any other MTA projects moving forward?


I only worked on the icons for that project, so I was more inspired by the AIGA symbols that were designed for the DOT in 1974 (which Massimo Vignelli was part of the design committee, and coincidentally published four years after the standards manual).


I actually found it really useful to confirm some of the original rules of the system. The whole WalkNYC wayfinding system is designed to reflect the look of the subway signs and blend into the existing transport systems of the city.

On the maps we had chosen to show subway stations with a “subway tab” that looked like a miniature subway sign denoting the station and lines available to the rider. I used the rules set out in the manual to get them just right. We also incorporated the rule above the type—which was originally supposed to be a structural element. So the manual was extremely helpful and influential to the WalkNYC system. It’s nice that is will live on in something other than the subway.

I actually first noticed this manual when featured in UNIT Editions, a book which specifically looks at guidelines from the past. I know Spin asked you to include the manual in this book. Did this idea also inspire you to do more in-depth version of your own?


We were really excited when UNIT asked us to include the manual in their book. I can’t remember when we first floated the idea creating a book for the standards manual that we had, but it really came to fruition after a publisher showed interest, and then dropped off. The UNIT book was probably in production around this time, but maybe once our copy got returned from their staff we put the gears in motion. In the end, getting rejected from the other publisher definitely pushed it through.


I think we talked about making a book right after we found the manual, but at the time it seemed impossible. But a year later we were working with MTA to bring the WalkNYC maps to the into the subway stations, so that relationship gave us an “in” to ask for permission. Seeing UNIT Editions awesome book was what made us really want to do it.

Well that just about wraps things up! What’s your next side project?


It’s sitting on our shelf, coil-bound. Stay tuned!


Mine involves our liquor shelf and a lie-down.


Sci-fi & Proto-Futures


On Monday night I went to the panel discussion ‘Science Fiction – Home of the Literary Activist?’ at the Southbank Centre. It was a event produced by English PEN and it brought together Nick Harkaway, James Smythe, Gwyneth Jones and editor Anne C. Perry and Sophie Mayer.

The session made explicit the vitally important line connecting science fiction and significant social change. It shone a light on genres which I had an inkling about but from which I had not stood back far enough from to see their true power. ‘Social science fiction’ and ‘soft science fiction’ are sub-genres which focus on the psychological/ anthropological side of social change –‘speculative societies’ or ‘plausible societies’ as they can be called. The great feminist sci-fi witers such as Le Guin, Octavia Butler, perhaps Margaret Atwood are the heroines of these worlds. They construct new societies, with new norms, new rules, new means of reproduction, redressed power structures.

HG Wells too is seen as one of the greatest speculative, socially oriented writers, and Monday night’s event was in some ways in honour of him. He was himself the founder of PEN – the global literary network committed to free expression  - and he was also one of the founders of the human rights organization LIBERTY.  The event really revealed the watery distinction is between fiction and fact. Great science fiction is shot through with straightforward documentary and powerful manifesto to help us more truly see the world around us. It can often, quite literally, help to materialize new realities.  HG Wells lived out his fictions through activist work that has left, and will leave, the most remarkable, most material legacy many years after his death.

Alongside sci-fi which occupies itself with the social/ human sciences, is sci-fi dedicated to the natural (harder) sciences – galaxies, aliens, clones, telekinesis etc. though the distinctions between the two is I’m sure false. This harder form of sci-fi is by no means any less socially powerful. Silicon Valley can owe a great deal of its innovation to writers of this kind – many big execs are themselves lifelong readers of sci-fi. It was on the basis of this that the fledgling Chinese sci-fi scene of recent years has been nurtured and encouraged – to trigger a national spirit of tech innovation to rival that of the Valley. 

For me, the evening had two big lessons or messages of inspiration (and a reminder of the stunning power of JG Ballard who was my own route to sci-fi).  Firstly, the magnificent example of HG Wells and his mission, articulated by Sophie Mayer, ‘to defend the imagination and create the circumstances for change to happen’ . Secondly, the absolute worth in letting imagination stray as far and as wide as possible. As Gwyneth Jones pointed out “ever since the golden age of sci-fi, it’s the weird stuff that has come true (telepathy, telekinesis). The straightforward stuff (exploring life on Mars) has fallen by the wayside….” As a species, it’s good to hear that our appetite and commitment to creating the mind-bending and extraordinary is still very much alive.

Suzanne Livingston is Head of Strategy at WO London.

Our own summit on imagination and change was this Thursday.

Going for gold

So Oslo has dropped out of the race to host the 2022 Winter Olympics - leaving just Beijing and Almaty in the running.

Audiences with the King, VIP cocktail parties, dedicated traffic lanes and roller-skating monkey butlers were just some of the IOC’s demands (7000 pages of them apparently) which raised famously reserved Norwegian eyebrows and encouraged the government to withdraw its bid.

Of course the huge cost of staging a spectacle like the Winter Olympics also had something to with the decision. Sochi cost a mind-boggling $51 billion. It’s hard for any government to justify numbers like that when the ordinary people who vote them in and out of power can’t see how they fit in the picture. So we’re left with those two pillars of democracy - China and Kazakhstan - still willing to meet the table stakes.

So what happened to the Olympic spirit in all of this? Can the principals of fair play and universal participation mean anything in this climate of excess?

Sure London 2012 wasn’t cheap to stage. But the most enduring image for me isn’t Farah, Ennis or Weir. It’s not the pringle, the copper box or the cauldron. It’s not even Danny Boyle’s surreal ballet of nurses and hospital beds. For me it’s the games makers - thousands of regular Britons without whom the games couldn’t have happened - directing, cheerleading, travelling to and from the Olympic park on the train and tube radiating pride. The embodiment of the idea behind London 2012  - that everyone, whoever they are, can be Olympic.

Can putting ordinary people at the centre of what you do ever make commercial sense? Of course. Just look at the Bundesliga in Germany, where historically fans have had a majority stake in clubs and average ticket prices are less than half those of the English Premier League. In Germany it’s understood that clubs voluntarily forego ticket revenue to maintain bonds with their community. No surprise then that the Bundesliga consistently has the highest average attendances of any football league in the world. More surprising possibly is that it’s the most profitable of the European ‘big five’ leagues by some distance, with its profits almost three times those of the Premier League.

"We do not think fans are like cows to be milked." Uli Hoeness, former president of Bayern Munich, once said. "Football has got to be for everyone." Moo.

In the commercial world too, the most interesting and progressive businesses put the likes of you and me at the centre of their operations - making us both drivers and beneficiaries. eBay is now the most popular online retailer in the UK, ahead of established giants like Tesco and Argos. Airbnb fills more nights than that symbol of exclusivity Hilton Hotels. And established businesses like Lego bring users in to help imagine their future with programmes like First Lego League. Of course this doesn’t mean big business is dead. It just means that smart organisations know that inviting ordinary people in to help shape the experience means they stand a much better chance of giving people what they want and having them come back for more.

So come on Thomas Bach and the IOC. You can make games which are weighted towards the privileged few, speeding past gridlocked plebs on dedicated traffic lanes or separated by high walls from protests that never officially happen. Or you can recognise the way the wind is blowing - that individuals, ordinary people, are slowly but surely starting to exert influence in all kinds of places which were once the preserve of the minority.

Ultimately that’s where the race is heading. Wouldn’t it be nice if you weren’t last out of the blocks on this one?

Image credit:

Behaviour change, technically speaking

By Zami Majuqwana

As part of its Nicer Tuesdays series, It’s Nice That this week partnered with Protein to host an event all about unique and inspiring approaches to photography. Four speakers shared their stories of photographic experimentation, including prolific iPhone photographer Olly Lang, photography publisher Harry Hardy, and photographic trailblazers Luke Evans and Lauren Pannack.

Halfway through the event, in a room of about 100 people, only 3 raised their hands in response to the question, “Who here is a photographer?” That fact that people who took, edited, filtered, and shared photo after photo of the event on Instagram and Twitter didn’t self-identify as photographers was striking. It’s also a self-assessment the event itself brought into serious question.

The integration of high quality cameras into every day devices has certainly empowered people to take more photos. Olly Lang described his own iPhone as a “discreet device that allows you to capture everything around you”.

What’s now clear is that this sort of technology is also engendering in its users new photographic instincts, or “photographic behaviours”.

Sorting photographers from people who happen to take photos, Harry Hardy pointed to design as the key differentiator, observing “you never see photography without seeing it in the hands of design”. It is true that well framed, artistically composed images are more conventionally photographic. Even less well-designed photographs can be made photographic in the curated context of a book, publication, or exhibition. But modern technology has given even the conventionally amateur (or even terrible!) photographer access to the design tools to elevate their images to the status of photography. In-camera editing tools, in-app filters, and the resulting curated Instagram feeds provide the designed context Hardy seems to require, making more of us “photographers” than we may think.

The academic origins of Instagram reveal how photography-enabling technologies have gone on to create new behaviours in their users. Whilst at Stanford, the photo-sharing app’s founders studied under B J Fogg, a behavioural design lecturer and founder of the university’s Persuasive Tech Lab. His eponymous Fogg Behaviour Model uses the formula B = MAT to prove how technologies combine motivation (M), ability (A) and triggers (T) to stimulate new behaviours (B). A combination of difficulty and high motivation, or ease and low motivation, creates a behavioural curve above which triggers create new habits.

With Fogg’s model it’s clear how Instagram combines motivation (likes), ability (filters), and triggers (notifications) to inform new (in this case photographic) behaviours like those I witnessed at this week’s event. We know that great technology caters to existing human needs, and this proliferation of photography shows it also has the power to create new behaviours too.

This has implications for change and its proponents. From saving money, to conserving food, to moving our bodies more – the key to positive behaviour change may lie, more than we think, in the technologies we are able to design and provide.

Photo credit: Olly Lang

Money more human

We recently held our Money Now event, where we welcomed 15 senior leaders from the world of money to discuss the big changes occurring in the industry and the opportunities that arise from this.

The conversation was rich and varied with senior folk from a wide range of backgrounds, spanning fast growing tech start-ups such as GoCardless and Crowdbnk, through to more established online platforms such as Zopa and Nutmeg, as well as financial heavyweights such as Barclays and NewDay.

We were also lucky enough to hear the wise words of Luqman Arnold, former CEO of Abbey National and former Chairman of UBS, who stimulated the discussion with some rich insights on factors driving change in the industry, and who talked about his new venture, and breakthrough advisory model, CAN.

The discussion mainly centered around how the world of money and its role in people’s lives is fundamentally changing, powered by new technologies and a new entrepreneurial desire to side-step the institutions and help individuals take control.

“Money is taking on different forms that go beyond currency, and reflect what individuals value now – whether that’s time, reputation, their peer recognition, or even sharing skills”

This shifting industry has lead to a new ecosystem of money forming around the individual, with players fighting to embed themselves across people’s daily lives and be ever more useful to them. In short, the fight is for the individual and to give them the power they need to take control of their finances, rather than to keep this power to yourselves and try and manipulate the system and rates. 

 “Banks need to change their culture in order to innovate quickly enough, to become more valued in customers’ lives - otherwise they will simply become a dumb pipe”

The group discussed how a new generation of users (YZ) is growing up without a traditional banking relationship and demanding a new level of customer experience and service that is built around them. The group felt that empowering the user to take control of their financial decisions was the key to success in this new ecosystem.

“A new generation of users is now looking for an alternative to banking – the technology players like Google and Apple pose a major threat as they are building platforms on which users want to spend their time and convergence around”

The group argued that the key factors for winning in this new money ecosystem were to put the individual in control, making products and experiences simpler and more transparent; making these platforms more universal and democratic so everyone can use them; helping educate and inform people on how to manage their money (and credit) better; connecting these users to peer-to-peer communities to share ideas and make better decisions; and make sure these products performed well and were more useful in people’s daily lives.

“We need to give more people access to these financial platforms and give them the skills and education they need to make the most from them”  

The conversation ended on the salient point that technology gives financial players a unique opportunity to break down existing barriers and help not just the privileged few but the 5 billion unbanked across the world, with the financial products and advice they deserve.

“We have a responsibility to use our resources and technology to stretch further afield and help the 5 billion unbanked in new ways, to improve their lives”

So it seems that money still makes the world go round, but this time, it can be for the benefit of all of us.

Watch this space for the full Money Now report coming out soon.

Introducing: Code-M

Today our CEO Ije Nwokorie is at Wired by Design giving people there a sneak peek into some work in progress at Wolff Olins. It’s a brand that pits creativity against malaria. It’s called Code-M.

627,000 people died last year from malaria - a preventable disease. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “transformative new tools and delivery strategies” are a key factor in eradicating malaria.

At Wolff Olins we believe creativity is a powerful force. It can help our clients stand out, change and grow. So can creativity help combat malaria?

We’ve created Code-M to find out.

Code-M is a brand that pits creativity against malaria by connecting people with different skills and knowledge to instigate affordable, desirable products with an anti-Malarial soul. Some will raise awareness and some will provide new tools to combat malaria.


We got people together to test our idea. The Code-M team were joined by product designers from MAP and the Royal College of Art and experts from Malaria No More UK. We snipped. We sewed. We sang. We developed four prototype products including a range of anti-Malarial toys and a net that a five year old can set up themselves.

The Code-M identity expresses the idea of connecting people: individual Ms connect together to form a magic, protective fabric. The ambition is that partners will be able to appropriate the brand by creating their own Code-M experiences and products on the back of a common design system.

Code-M is an experiment. Can creativity combat malaria? We need your help to find out. Please sign up to stay informed of next steps and to get together for a bigger hack day on Malaria day 2015. Watch this space!